The quietness of the voices woke me up.
Not that Mom and Dad yell a lot,
Not nearly like the Worzowskis across the street,
But quietness is even worse.
That’s when you know something serious is going on.
I lay in bed and stared at the ceiling.
Kathy snored in her bed across the room.
The Love Is kids smiled down at her from their poster.
Above me, Peter Frampton smiled from his.
Oh Peter, I thought, what’s wrong?
I waited as long as I could
but my growling stomach
and a growing sense of dread
and the threat of another hot summer day
chased me out of bed
I peed, brushed my teeth,
and changed into a halter top and shorts
and went barefoot downstairs.
Not knowing what I would find.
Mom and Dad are bad actors.
Honestly, they would be pelted with tomatoes
like you see happen in the old movies
with Abbott and Costello and the Marx brothers.
“Good morning!’ Mom said,
with an extra splash of cheerful.
If I hadn’t known something was up
that would have made me suspicious.
Dad smiled at me with a mouth-only smile.
His eyes were worried more than normal.
I took a Tab from out of the fridge,
and a big bowl from the cupboard
Super Sugar Smacks called to me
I eat when I’m nervous
Mom watched me as I filled the bowl,
now her eyes were worried, too.
I put the box down on the counter.
“What is it?” I said.
I do not beat around the bush.
It makes me less nervous.
They shared a look.
“We’re going out on strike,”
I sat down heavily in the chair.
The frog on the box of Smacks smiled at me
And suddenly I felt not hungry.
“What does that mean?” Kathy said from the doorway.
She was still in her nightgown,
Brown hair all tousled,
Glasses down on the end of her nose.
“Push up your glasses, Kathleen,” Mom said.
She had abandoned the false cheerfulness
and returned to the normal business of the day.
Kathy pushed up her glasses and asked again.
“What’s that mean?”
Dad shifted in his seat and patted his leg.
Kathy scampered over like a puppy
to sit in his lap.
She’s going into fourth grade
but Dad still treats her like she’s little.
I frowned at the frog on the box of cereal.
“It means I get to see more of you this summer,”
Dad said to Kathy.
“Does that sound good?”
Behind me, Mom pushed down the toaster lever
with excessive energy.
The springs complained a little
but knew better than to squawk too much
when Mom is irritated.
I pulled the Tab’s tab and sipped the cold drink.
Strike means Dad staying out of work.
Strike means picketing.
Strike means meetings at the union hall.
Strike means no paycheck.
Strike means no summer trip.
Strike means maybe win, maybe lose.
Strike means things will be very
this year than last.
“When did this happen?”
I finally manage to say.
“We voted last night,” Dad explains.
“The company had come back with a new contract offer.
They wanted us to take a cut.
They say business is bad.”
He snorts and lights a cigarette.
It flares to life like a tiny dragon
and then breathes out smoke when he puts it in his mouth.
“But we have people to take care of.
Right, Monkey?” he says.
Kathy giggles as he tickles her.
Mom and I watch them.
It does not seem real.
“Will you be out for long?”
“A couple of weeks at the most.”
“It’s like shut down, Daddy,”
Every July the plant shuts down for two weeks
for retooling the machines.
Dad takes that time as a chance to work
around the house.
Last summer he reshingled the house
and the summer before moved the back door because
Mom mentioned that it would be nice
to step out onto the porch
and look straight into the yard.
My father cannot sit still.
Right now he is telling Kathy
to get dressed so they can
go bike riding.
“Breakfast first,” Mom says.
I push my bowl across the table.
Sugar Smacks haven’t been covered with milk yet.
They’re still smack-y.
Kathy eats them with her fingers.
Gross, I think, and look away.
“A spoon, Kathleen,” Mom says automatically,
and rises from the table to get it.
My cold Tab is making a puddle on the Formica.
Mom doesn’t care.